It’s been 10 years since Linkin Park‘s Mike Shinoda released an album under the name Fort Minor. Since then, the MC/producer/instrumentalist has been asked daily about when there’d be more music from his old outlet for the hip-hop music he grew up loving and recording.
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That question was finally answered this week with the surprise return of Fort Minor via the single and 360 video for the track “Welcome.” Shinoda will be playing a Fort Minor show in L.A. on Monday night at Exchange LA, and there will be more shows as well, but for now, no Fort Minor album is on the way. Linkin Park remains Shinoda’s priority, but at least the door is open now for more Fort Minor music.
The day after he performed “Welcome” on Conan, Shinoda talked to Billboard about the resurrection of the Fort Minor name, the nerves of performing under it, and the balance of writing for Linkin Park and Fort Minor.
When you did the video game battle with Steve Aoki, you joked about all the demand you get for Fort Minor music. How much did people asking for this play into the timing?
I’m always writing, and oftentimes I’ll write stuff and it just seems I’m sorting through ideas and other times it’s like, “Oh, that’s a Linkin Park song.” This song was the first one in forever I listened to and I thought, “Oh my god, first of all, that’s done, and second of all, it’s Fort Minor.”
What does it mean to you to know that even though you “hit it and quit it,” as you say in “Welcome,” fans have been waiting a decade for more Fort Minor music?
There’s never been a lull in fan questions about new Fort Minor music. With Linkin Park, we do a meet-and-greet with 50 to 100 fans before every show, so I get a chance to talk to people in person, and in every single meet-and-greet there are a few people who ask about Fort Minor. And I always chalk that up to the fact those are the most hard-core fans, those are the ones who paid to be in the LPU [Linkin Park Underground fan group], they come to multiple shows a lot of times. It wasn’t so much about people wanted to hear it; if that was the case, I would’ve done it earlier. But the truth of the matter is, when I did the first Fort Minor album the band was coming off Hybrid Theory and Meteora, which was really a time when we were known for one sound. Then we did Collision Course with Jay Z and I kind of missed the hip-hop songs I used to make when I was a teenager. So I made Fort Minor at that time thinking it would never fit in with Linkin Park. Then lo and behold a couple of years later, we broadened out our stylistic approach in the studio and my Fort Minor ideas could be incorporated into Linkin Park. On Minutes to Midnight, there were songs that had some elements of Fort Minor, notably “Waiting for the End” and “When They Come for Me.” There’s even one I consider a really modern Fort Minor-type song called “Until It Breaks,” off Living Things. It’s always kind of been there, but until this song it was always just something where I thought the Fort Minor ideas I had would be best served mashed up with the input of the rest of the guys in the band. And this is a song that came out of my head and it was basically done. It was 85 percent there, and I knew if I put it through the Linkin Park writing machine, it would change considerably and I didn’t want that to happen to it. I felt like it was a good song on its own, and I was prepared to get behind it.
How has your idea of Fort Minor changed after a decade?
When I did Fort Minor originally, I didn’t know it consciously at the time, but I was not comfortable standing up on a stage by myself. So I put old friends, people like Styles of Beyond, around me. I hired a band of guys who became friends. I had other friends I’d run into on the album like Black Thought, Common and John Legend. At the end of the day I look back on it and I was doing that partially because they were all really talented and I loved having them on the album and partially because I wasn’t comfortable just standing up there by myself. In the process of touring with Fort Minor in those days, I did get more confident and in the years since then I’ve gotten more confident. It’s still nerve-racking to do it — like I stood up there and did a performance by myself on Conan last night and I haven’t felt nervous like that in forever. I was super nervous just doing the one song. Part of it is because I’m not primarily a singer, but over the years, just from singing backup vocals to [LP frontman] Chester [Bennington] and doing more and more singing on the Linkin Park albums, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with it.
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How do you approach playing live with Fort Minor?
Fort Minor has always been a solo project. What this is all about right now is letting this be a solo project and seeing, “Can I entertain people for an hour by myself?” It’s a challenge. It’s gonna be difficult, but it’s gonna be fun and I think I’m up for it. I’ve got a set together that’s really exciting. Now, with that said, I’m also not letting this get in the way of Linkin Park. Linkin Park is definitely my priority, and the Fort Minor shows will be special events. There is no album, there is no tour, everything is focused around the 360 video and song. And at this point, the idea for me is just to leave the door open for the possibility of what can happen. I’m just riding the wave.
Does this open the door though for a bigger Fort Minor return?
Now that the door is open, I feel like the possibility is out there. It relieves some of the tension of having not put out any songs in like 10 years. Finally getting over that hump of putting out one allows me to have a little less pressure of what I put out to the fans because I want the bar of quality to stay high, but at the same time there is a lot of pressure on the first one back. So now that that’s out of the way, we’ll see what happens with something else.
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Talk about the live show.
The show obviously is rooted in The Rising Tied album. What I wanted to do with it is kind of within the restraints of what I find tasteful. I want it to be tasteful; I wanted to create a show that entertains you at all costs. So I don’t just stick to The Rising Tied and I don’t just stick to the beats you heard on that record. I want to give people surprises along the way and make it entertaining all the way through. The show is a one-man show; that’s part of the challenge that I put to myself. Basically I approached it as a mash-up between what a rap show is and what a DJ set is, in terms of being able to walk in with a computer and a couple of instruments, plug in and play. I’ve only announced one show and I don’t plan on announcing that many more.
Are there songs from The Rising Tied a decade later you’re particularly excited to play live?
There are songs I want to play because I feel they’re really fun sonically or lyrically, like “Petrified” or “In Stereo.” On the other hand, when I toured with Fort Minor 10 years ago, I never really played “Cigarettes” or “Kenji” that often, and this time those were the two songs I was most excited to play because I feel like they say the most. This show thematically is coming from a different place. “Welcome” is an underdog song. It’s about feeling like an outsider and being totally fine with that.